Friday, March 15, 2013

ATL: Just Peachy (Part 2)

On our first full day in Atlanta, the weather was less than ideal.  The 40 degree weather reminded us of home!  Nonetheless, we had a full day of activities planned and were anxious to get started. 

The first item on our agenda was a visit to meet another one of our cousins who attends Emory University.  Emory is located in the Druid Hills section of Atlanta and has a nice little area of shops and dining options known as Emory Village, near the University's Haygood-Hopkins main gate. 

We met at the Steady Hand Pour House (which I wish had a website so I could give you the link), a small yet impressive coffee shop just steps from the Emory gate.  The atmosphere inside was cool, featuring nattily attired baristas in bow ties and vintage-modern decor.  You quickly realize that this is not your average cup of joe when you notice many coffees being brewed in what looks like lab equipment- in actuality specialty coffee brewing systems.  Chemex is one method and siphon another (siphoning is not proprietary but I learned a bit at ).  I have to admit, I was overwhelmed and went with my typical soy latte.  Cousin and hubby were purists, ordering a siphon brew and an Americano respectively.  The drinks were pricey but I have to say my latte was the best I've ever had, complete with a pretty design in the foam. 

Suitably caffeinated, we were ready for the nickel tour of Emory University . We began at the bookstore which is multi-storied and modern, housing everything from textbooks to giftware to plush stuffed microbes (I had to stop myself from buying the flesh-eating bacteria one- he even had a knife and fork embroidered on his fuzzy exterior!).  Emory has a rich and varied history and its campus is home to beautiful architecture, museums, libraries, and a myriad of landscaped seating areas that would be great to explore on a warm, sunny day.  Being a bit chilly, we walked cousin to class, bought some souvenirs, and headed on our way.

By this time, we were ready for a snack and found that we were just a short drive away from a juice bar.  Arden's Garden looked great online so we decided to make our way to the Virginia Highlands neighborhood.  The drive was quick but enjoyable as we passed so many great homes and neighborhoods along the way.  We arrived and easily found Arden's Garden in a small strip mall.  The location is clean and bright inside, with many pre-packaged juices available if you are in a hurry, as well as many healthy snack options.  I chose the grand slam (a shot each of wheatgrass, lemon, ginger, and cranberry), as well as an OJ.  Hubby had a delicious custom blended smoothie.  The drinks were all delicious and a perfect remedy to my post-flight hypochondria.  We grabbed a raw kale salad that was amazing, and some avocado oil potato chips (just to make sure we weren't TOO healthy)- awesome.  I definitely wish we had Arden's Garden in NY!

Another leisurely drive brought us back to Decatur where we hit up Big Peach Running Company .  I was in need of some new running shoes and did some advance research, and Big Peach Running Co. did not disappoint.  The shop is bright and jam packed full of running gear that I always see in magazines but never in stores.  Craig, the associate who helped us, was enthusiastic, polite, knowledgeable, and patient.  He scanned my feet for pressure points, then had me try on a neutral shoe.  Off to the treadmill we went, where my gait was analyzed by video.  Several pairs later, I found the perfect shoe!  (For you runners, the Brooks pure cadence 2, available at )  Shopaholic that I am, of course I had to purchase a running shirt and headband as well.  Prices were fair, and the service was exceptional.  Never again will I buy my shoes online!

A quick stop at the house and we were off to an important date: Community Circle at Winnona Park Elementary School.  City Schools of Decatur are touted as some of the best, and we were looking forward to seeing our little cousin's class in action.   Community Circle is held weekly and showcases the topics students have been working on that week.  We were incredibly impressed- the school was spotless and had amenities one would expect from a private school, including a koi pond and gardens.  The kids were enthusiastic and engaged, and the circle is led by energetic teachers with assistance from parents and volunteers (many wielding instruments).  Decatur definitely has something to be proud of here!

Back at the house we had a quick snack, then loaded into the Denali to head to dinner.  We took the scenic route and made a pit stop in the Little Five Points district of Atlanta.  This is often described as the Haight-Ashbury of Atlanta, and rightfully so.  It has a bohemian feel and many interesting shops and resturants.  We were on a schedule so we decided to pop into Sevananda Natural Foods Market .  As you may have guessed from the website, this is a food co-op, and the largest one I have been in.  Their selection is huge!  There is a large and varied bulk section, as well as salad bar, hot bar, and soup selections.  Since we were on our way to dinner, we stuck to beverages (I was thrilled to find Arden's Gardens prepackaged juices).  We made a mental note to stop back on the way to the airport for healthy snacks.

Dinner was at Napoleon's Grill .  Napoleon's has a great, varied menu that really does have something for everyone.  Once you step inside it has a cozy, country feel replete with a large bar and a stage for live music.  The place was packed when we got there, and there was a bit of a wait for our party (there were 7 of us).  Time passed quickly as I caught up with my aunt, and we were soon seated.  Napoleon's has a great beer selection, including my favorite, Fat Tire lager by New Belgium brewing company.  The service was prompt and pleasant, and the food was outstanding.  I enjoyed the thai tofu tacos, which were served with black beans and tortilla chips.  The tacos were spicy but flavorful and the portion size more than ample.  We finished the evening with a shared slice of key lime pie, which was to delicious, and headed back to Decatur.

Once back home, we briefly debated going out, but that was short-lived as we were all tired. We put the kids to bed, grabbed our beverages of choice, built a fire, and settled in to watch The Blair Witch Project...oldie but goodie and gets me every time.  There's something to be said for sticking with what you know, and watching a movie that you know the plot (and some of the lines) by heart.  As the fire blazed, we intermittently chatted about old times until we were all falling asleep.

Stay tuned for ATL: Saturday (Oooh! Oooh!) (Part 3)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

ATL: Arrival (part 1)

I woke up last Thursday so thrilled: finally headed to Atlanta, Georgia to visit my cousins and their beautiful girls.  This trip has been put off approximately a million times the past few years, and despite the outrageously expensive airfare, the time for excuses was finished.  It was our 3rd wedding anniversary and the splurge seemed appropriate.  I love the anticipation- even the anxiety- of visiting a new place for the first time, and this was in no short supply as we did last minute packing and got on our way to JFK airport.

One note on booking: I did a lot of research to find the best airfare and car rental.  I tried some of the discount sites, but eventually found the exact same fare on .  Similar experience with the car rental.  I ended up reserving a standard car at , the rates were comparable and I always feel more comfortable when I book directly.  However, if you are booking flight, car, and hotel together, the rates on discount sites like become way more competitive.

The trip seemed blessed from the start: the day was sunny and warm (for NY in February anyway), there was no traffic, and as we turned on 880am to listen to traffic reports, it transitioned to live coverage from the Vatican of Pope Benedict XVI's preparation for resignation.  This made for an interesting and easy drive,  and we pulled in at JFK with plenty of time. 

I hadn't flown from JFK in a few years, and it had been longer than that since I flew Delta, so we opted to park in the terminal parking lot rather than the remote long term parking or one of the privately held lots nearby.  The terminal parking is $33 per day and if you are lucky, there are covered parking spots available as well.  From our uncovered spot it was only a 5-7 minute walk to the Delta terminal. 

There are signs everywhere touting a new Delta Terminal coming May 2013, and let me tell you, it is desperately needed.  When we arrived at our gate area it was crowded, filthy, and woefully out of date.  We traipsed back to the international departure gates and found Bar Brace at gate 15.  Plenty of seating, varied selection, and a modern feel made this an excellent choice.  I had a grilled veggie wrap, while my husband had a turkey club wrap.  Both were tasty enough although outside of an airport we would have been much more critical, especially for the price.  Of note at Bar Brace: inside the seating area there are TONS of outlets if you need a last minute charge, and restrooms are directly across the hallway which is convenient. 

We boarded our flight on time and this was when I remembered why I disliked Delta in the past.  We were forced to gate check our bags on the jetway- because Delta charges for the 1st checked bag, obviously every passenger carries on, and if you aren't among the first to board, you're out of luck.  We had packed some fragile chocolates and gifts but had to check the bags as there was no time to shift everything around.  The plane seemed old and rickety, my knees were up against the seat in front of me (I'm 5'6), and horror of horrors: no TV in the headrest.  Yikes.  Luckily I thought ahead and downloaded some shows and movies to my iPad.  The beverage/snack service featured all the usual suspects and was definitely not served with a smile.  One other oddity is the ongoing pitch of the American Express Delta Skymiles credit card.  Not only a lengthy announcement, we were then individually accosted by the rude flight attendant attempting to shove an application into our hands.  However, we took off on time and landed on time.  The flight from JFK to ATL was just about 2/12 hours so it was not so bad.

Upon arrival, we were awestruck at the cleanliness and efficiency of the Atlanta airport.  It is chock full of great food and beverage options, plenty of shopping, and there was even a live pianist in the food court area!  What a change from JFK!  The airport is huge though, and once we got to the main terminal it was somewhat confusing to get to the car rental area.  I asked a police officer who was so polite and friendly (with a Jamaican accent nonetheless) and we easily found the train to get us there. 

The representatives at National were polite and efficient and gladly upgraded us to a 7-passenger GMC Yukon for only $100 more.  This was a huge savings over what we would have paid online, so apparently the tips I read are true: book a standard car online, then haggle for an upgrade at the counter.  The Yukon ended up costing us $289 for the 3 days- when I priced it online it was over $500!  The rental process was quick and easy and the car was spotless and in great shape.  I  would not hesitate to rent from them again and plan on joining their Emerald Club rewards program (it's free, why not?).

Only a quick 30 minute drive (during rush hour) from the airport and we arrived in Decatur.  Since we made such good time, I took a swing through the downtown section of the city and was immediately impressed.  It has a very hip and young vibe- tons of great restaurants, lounges, salons, and shops to be found as well as a gleaming MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) station. 

Our cousins are about 5 minutes from downtown Decatur in traffic, and we immediately fell in love with the neighborhood.  Atlanta has an abundance of old growth trees and it adds so much to the already beautiful neighborhoods.  Once we were settled, the boys headed out to purchase some adult beverages at The Beer Growler in nearby Avondale Estates.  Their selection and service was reported to be great and the beers we had were delicious.  Definitely nicer than grabbing a six pack! 

My lovely cousin prepared a delicious root vegetable stew for dinner from the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook  We were surprised after dinner with a stunningly beautiful vegan chocolate cake for our anniversary from Southern Sweets Bakery  This cake was AMAZING: chocolatey and dense but not overwhelming.  The frosting had a mocha flavor that was to die for, and the chocolate frosting layer had chocolate chips for texture.  The outside even had yummy chocolate sprinkles!  Well worth the calories.  We popped a bottle of bubbly (juice for the kids) and enjoyed a lovely rendition of "Happy Anniversary" sung by the girls.  A perfect evening and great way to begin our stay in Atlanta.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the second installment of our trip, ATL: Just Peachy (part 2)